It was Sano's first at-bat since Monday, as he was held out of the starting lineup on Tuesday and Wednesday to give him a mental and physical break. He had struck out in 11 of his previous 12 at-bats, and he has been nursing a strained right hamstring. But when the Twins needed him most, Sano came through with a towering shot to left on a 3-2 fastball from Royals lefty Franklin Morales with two out in the 12th.
"I was just trying to hit a line drive," Sano said. "He just threw a fastball inside and I was able to hit a homer to help my team win the game. I was so happy. That was a big moment to hit a home run like that."
Twins manager Paul Molitor said he was waiting for the right opportunity to bring Sano in as a pinch-hitter and liked the matchup with Morales as a left-hander. Molitor said Sano has had trouble with lefties with good changeups, but Morales uses a slider and curveball instead of changeup and went with the fastball on the homer.
"The more pitches he threw, the more optimistic I was feeling about the at-bat," Molitor said. "The surprise of the different pitches kind of went away the longer he stayed in there. He got something he could handle."
Morales, though, believed he had struck out Sano with a 2-2 fastball that was called a ball by home-plate umpire Greg Gibson. Sano, however, said after the game, he thought the pitch was inside.
"The pitch was right there, man," Morales said. "But if he misses it, he misses it. That's baseball."
It was Sano's 16h homer of the year and his seventh that came in a tie game. He's now hitting .281/.389/.592 with 16 homers and 43 RBIs in 57 games.
"He did what he can do," Molitor said. "He got a run on the board quickly for us."
Sano's teammates in the dugout celebrated wildly after the homer, as it helped the Twins earn a series win. They've gone 3-3 against the first-place Astros and Royals on their road trip and head to Chicago for a three-game series against the White Sox with some momentum after Sano's clutch blast.
"It was pretty impressive," right-hander Mike Pelfrey said. "The power is off the charts. He's only going to get better. The Twins are lucky to have him. For us, it's pretty fun to watch."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.